In a decision released Monday by the State of Connecticut Department of Education, Case No. 09-552, a hearing officer found a student with asthma and allergies triggered by various environmental allergens, including mold and pollen, was not eligible for special education services under the category of Other Health Impaired (OHI). The student, a senior in high school who actually graduated in June 2010, claimed he should be considered eligible for special education and his family should be eligible for reimbursement for four years of private college preparatory high school education, despite being an honors student with good grades and no need for specially designed instruction at any point during his school career.
In a “battle of the experts”, both sides presented testimony from allergy and asthma specialists, with the student’s treating allergist testifying that he had recommended that the student not attend the public high school due to alleged mold contamination and water intrusion issues. The hearing officer noted that despite the level of concern noted by the family and doctor at the high school level, the student was slated to attend college at a local university where no specific precautions had been taken for the purpose of avoiding exposure to mold allergens or water intrusions.
The hearing officer rejected the claim made by the family that the need for a specific clean-air environment recommended by the treating physician constituted a need for special education services. This is a significant holding, since many families make the claim that a need for an indoor environment free of mold and pollen is sufficient to enable the child to qualify for special education services under IDEA and state law. If the school is unable to provide such an environment, or objects to having its schools tested for mold spore content, the family often claims that the child is entitled to private school education at the expense of the district. Such a claim was rejected in this case; therefore, the school district was not required to pay the student’s tuition to a private high school where he had been unilaterally placed for four years by the family.